“It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.”
Thus begins Becky Albertalli’s young adult debut, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA: with teenage blackmail.
When Simon Spier, a 16 year old Oreo-inhaling theatre nerd, forgets to log out on a school computer, his personal emails are discovered by classmate and general-mess-of-a-human, Martin Addison. Martin learns several secrets: Simon is gay, he’s been communing with another gay teen who calls himself ‘Blue’, and Simon’s been using a handle to disguise his identity as well. Martin casually suggests Simon could help him get closer to new girl Abby—whom Simon has befriended—lest Simon’s secrets somehow… float through the school. (Floating secrets. A serious problem.)
Simon fears Martin’s next move and the impact on himself and Blue. Simon isn’t out yet, and neither is Blue, and Blue, unbeknownst to Martin, is actually a student at their school—but who? Simon’s best mate Nick? Or the softly spoken Cal? Or, dear God, Martin? Or just someone else? Martin keeps hounding and confusing Simon, while Blue’s emails grow intimate, and Simon falls hard. He decides he has to meet Blue. Then everything turns terrible.
Albertalli’s greatest achievement here is her crafty plotting set to a near-flawless pace. Judicious placement of clues have us suspecting Blue is, approximately—everyone. The ending will delight and leave you feeling shuddery for days (so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know. Bring Oreos.)
Simon is a wise-cracking, easy-going narrator with a disarmingly real teenage voice. (“I mean, I can’t even.”) In the wrong hands, he could easily tire and irritate, but Albertalli—a clinical psychologist who has spent years working with teenagers—refuses to budge, and we’re rewarded with an unapologetic teenage boy who just is. By contrast, Martin’s character is less consistent, which makes him a harder read, but his ambiguity keeps the mystery thrumming.
Simon’s parents are ‘fun’—woe be the teenagers whose parents expect not so much attendance at family barbeques or Sunday school, but high-level commitment to watching and discussing reality shows. While the family scenes are the only sluggish points in the plot, family bonding time has never looked so good—or horrific. Depending on how you feel about rose-giving and hot tubs.
In the wake of Orlando, this award-winning book is a much needed missive: defiantly funny and shiny, and brimming with love.